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Pyne and Marles trade blows over shipbuilding numbers

shadow minister richard marles
Shadow Minister Richard Marles at Australia's main operating base in the Middle East region

The saga of shipbuilding politicisation has continued, with the federal government and opposition in dispute over the valley of death and employment in the industry.

The saga of shipbuilding politicisation has continued, with the federal government and opposition in dispute over the valley of death and employment in the industry.

At a press conference in Adelaide's Osborne shipyards for the acceptance of the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) Hobart, Minister Pyne lambasted the previous federal Labor government, accusing them of costing workers their jobs at ASC shipbuilding.

"If the previous government remained in power, every single ASC worker would’ve lost their job – every single one of them," said Minister Pyne.


The minister said current workers at ASC will only remain employed due to the Turnbull government's $89 billion investment in Future Submarines, Future Frigates and Offshore Patrol Vessels.

"Because of this government’s decision that is not the case so we are certainly making the necessary decision to keep that workforce in tact because we decided that it is a sovereign capability that we want here in Australia, to be able to build ships, to build submarines, to sustain and maintain ships, to sustain and maintain submarines, which we are doing here at Osborne right now," Minister Pyne said.

Minister Pyne stated that current and former employees only have any job security in the industry because of these projects secured by the Turnbull government.

"Because of the previous government people will lose their jobs at the ASC and because of this government they have a future in shipbuilding and submarine building that they wouldn’t have otherwise had," he said.

In April this year, ASC announced there would be a reduction of 16 employees and 41 contractors on its AWD program.

But opposition defence spokesman Richard Marles slammed Minister Pyne's comments, saying Labor had plans to close the gap of the so called 'valley of death' sooner than the current Liberal government.

"The valley of death was entirely predictable, and Labor had a plan to close it. Labor’s plan was to build the supply ships in Australia and bring construction of the Offshore Patrol Vessels forward to protect workers’ jobs and make sure there was a continuous flow of work for the industry," Marles told Defence Connect.

Marles also criticised the Coalition government for their decision to have two of Australia's supply ships built overseas by Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, a build which Labor said would have helped alleviate the industry's valley of death.

"After four years of Coalition government, the supply ships are being built overseas and they haven’t even picked who’s going to build the Offshore Patrol Vessels," he said.

"Over 2,300 people in the naval shipbuilding industry have lost their jobs under the Coalition government.

"Christopher Pyne needs to do more than cut ribbons. He needs to take responsibility for his government’s actions."

Navantia will deliver the first of two supply ships in 2019. 

Last year, Minister for Defence Marise Payne said the government's decision was made on the basis of its concerns that Australian shipyards were not in a position to work on the supply ships due to other projects. 

"The $3 billion Offshore Patrol Vessel program, the $35 billion Future Frigate and the $50 billion Future Submarine program – all part of our continuous naval shipbuilding strategy – are not programs that I or the government are going to put at risk by playing around with this particular acquisition,” Minister Payne said at the time.